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  • Stuart

    The Warny was once a handicap and is now a mass start event for all the reasons mentioned but what is not pointed out is the fact that this is an elite race over an elite race distance.
    It is for many riders just a fondo and many “ride” the Warny with no intention to “race” it. It should be an Elite race only and NRS Teams only able to enter. In years gone by if this was the case the numbers were not there for this to occur but as cycling has evolved we now have 150-200 riders racing at the Elite level (NRS) . If someone wants to ride to Warrnambool then they can do it in their own time or better still run it as a fondo Pre-race and use the funds to support and keep the Great race going.

    • Simon Wile

      It’s not exactly a “nice” route. I wouldn’t ride it in any other circumstance than a race and attracting 200 NRS level riders to a single event would be quite a doing.

    • jules

      disagree. there are plenty of non-NRS riders who are capable of racing it and let’s be honest, the fastest non-NRS riders are way faster than the least fast NRS team members.

      • Pete

        Yes indeed. And less likely to crash than the lesser NRS riders.
        Also publish the Russell Mockridge article by Damien Cook.
        And don’t turn it back into a handicap – please!

    • tumbleweed

      I rode Amy’s Gran Fondo this year. The NRS race started 15mins before us and we must have caught about 30-40 of them before we finished. So to say that non NRS riders are not of the level to ride the Warny is not true. I’m riding the Warny this year and no one I know of who has entered is treating it as a Gran Fondo. The standard of the NRS guys is not of the standard that they might like to believe… Also the fact that NRS riders are allowed follow cars makes for a much more dangerous race as they will attack through the feed-zones causing chaos in the group. Hardly makes for a safe race.

    • Last year, a wise and nice bloke named Stuart McKenzie said exactly the same thing to me over a coffee in St Kilda after motorpacing. I can see the difference now between riding it just for a medal, and racing it…risking all for something more. But, I still think there should be room for both. The great thing about the Warrnambool is it has never been a race that was just for the elite riders. It’s so much more.

  • Robert Merkel

    While the Melbourne to Ballarat (and the Wagga to Albury, for that matter) are point-to-point handicaps, they’re also run on open roads. NRS teams have (quite reasonably) refused to race events in the past without proper road closures.

    More broadly, here’s something I wrote back in 2015 in response to a proposal by Dave McKenzie to turn the Warnie into fully-fledged pro race along the Great Ocean Road from Geelong to Warrnambool. While Macka’s goals are laudable, it’s hard to see his idea being workable absent a benefactor willing to pour millions of dollars into the race with little prospect of a commercial return.

    While I could theoretically see myself racing a Warny handicap, even if we assume that it would be financially viable with 300-odd entries,

    * Would the NRS teams send proper squads to lose the handicap race to the likes of, well, me? It doesn’t matter too much in the Sydney Hobart because the maxis with the corporate support physically cross the line first even if they lose on handicap, but would it work for cycling?
    * How would the back couple of bunches work if the NRS teams have riders split across scratch and chopping block?
    * Are the front bunches going to have reasonably well-matched riders in them who know how to ride handicaps – or will it be the usual CV handicap clusterfuck?

    • Thanks Robert. The ‘what about the NRS?’ issue is relevant to this discussion, but it’s not the most important issue (even though plenty will disagree). The NRS teams involvement in the Warrnambool only started around 2008, so 9 or so years out of 102 editions. I hope the custodians of this race don’t get too distracted with the NRS issue. It is possible the changes we keep hearing about from CA’s NRS review could have an impact on the M2W date, but it would be a mistake to try and make this great race all about the NRS – the teams don’t own the race. Many of them DNF most years anyway…hardly makes for exciting racing, and it’s disrespectful to the race history.

    • Adrian Miller

      The Wagga to Albury (John Woodman) road race has also nearly folded multiple times purely from traffic management costs and your assertion about NRS level riders not wanting to ride them is false. Previous winners of the Woodman are:
      Michael Matthews, Karl Menzies, Jay Sweet, Tom Palmer, Leigh Egan, Rhys Pollock, Dean Woods and Tim Decker. I’d class all of them as being NRS level riders if the NRS were around at their time. I have been involved in organising the Woodman multiple times.

      Suggestion, move the date to fit in with the Sun Tour, Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Don’t be so rigid as to keep it on a particular date just because of history. Moving to the January/February calendar slot automatically gives you European teams who are down here to race already. Step it up to a Professional road race, an NRS race (Mens and Womens) and a Gran Fondo for the punters. Beautiful coastline, a professional race and catch the train back to Melbourne would become an attractive proposition. This makes a clear split between racing and recreation riding.
      I back David McKenzies suggestion here: https://cyclingtips.com/2015/10/opinion-the-melbourne-to-warrnambool-is-edging-towards-extinction/

      Having organised handicap races, I can vouch for the large cost that traffice management makes up. If it were to run down the Victorian coastline with T intersections, the cost and risk goes way down. Should it be made into a whole day event you could simply shut the whole road IF volunteer traffic controllers could be employed.
      Such an iconic and revered race, it would be terrible not to say anything.

      • Robert Merkel

        Yep, some great riders have won the John Woodman – and it’s a bloody terrific race…particularly if it’s a still day :) Long may it continue and thanks for helping to make it happen over the years.

        My argument re NRS was not so much that individual riders wouldn’t want to participate – there’s plenty of NRS riders who ride club and state events if there’s not an NRS event on. But would they be happy to pay to send a full A-team to an event where a 50-year-old masters rider is just as likely to take the win as they are?

        As noted in my response to Macka at the time, a) does it really make sense to be running another road race in Victoria – out of Geelong – in Jan/Feb b) would WT riders really want a 270-odd km classic at that time of year, c) 270 km on flattish windy roads point-to-point during the hottest part of the year (so complicated logistics to get home, and that train isn’t going to fit hundreds of riders and bikes) is not exactly the sweet spot for a Gran Fondo, and d) the route is possibly good for TV but it sucks for spectators.

  • jules

    there’s a broader question here about the future of road racing. population growth and increasing mobility demand has led to a battle for road space. the challenges of running road races and especially one on a scale of the Warny are much different today than in 1920.

    there are at least 2 challenges:
    1. the implications and logistics of co-opting a public road for a sporting event of relevance to only a small proportion of the population
    2. the value to participants in such an event

    the value proposition of both is arguably declining. it is harder to organise road races these days, and there is some evidence that the changing road environment is compromising the quality of experience enjoyed by participants. some of whom may choose a different discipline, or sport. or already are.

    it’s great to hear about the commitment shown to keeping the Warny alive and I salute that, and those responsible. but I wonder if harder questions need to be asked – including whether a more radical overhaul is needed than just scratch race/handicap options.

    • Gavin Adkins

      Spot on. This is the bigger issue.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. While I am geographically far from Australia, I have seen and experienced similiar questions slowly eat away from the ‘mythical’ and coveted by many Euro (amateur) cycling scene. While cycling scenes do have their local ‘flavors’ the stations along the way are largely similar.

      1. Lots of ‘classic’ events even with long history have been cancelled due to insurance companies either refusing or premiums being too high. My neightbor is 70+ years old and a cycling encyclopedia of sorts and is amazing how many events that he knew (amateur/pro/gran fondo type) have simply disappeared in France. I assume similar things have happened in Belgium/The Netherlands; it was mostly talk of old-timers on group rides while I was there so not sure how much of it is true. My neighbor point blank refuses to ride on roads, while imo the situation is manageable, though as a ‘youngster’ I do not know it otherwise.

      2. Road races are run on more or less open public roads and that requires closures etc, aka major inconvenience for people not invlolved (99% of the populaiton basically). TdF stages are really annoying to locals and crowds are mostly tourists as one example. In one season of racing in France (Cat 2) in *every* race (more than a dozen for sure) there was a ‘confused’ driver heading directly towards the peloton, luckily nobody got hurt. Via social media that season I saw that some of my teamates had not been so lucky and bunch of broken frames. Not too long ago (2 weeks) a former teammate had a almost fatal collision with a scooter in a corner (he nearly missed total paralysis – 4 broken vertebrae). We see it even in UCI .1 and .HC events from time to time (the confused driver i mean). What I am trying to say is that as jules correctly points out the battle for road space is real and road racing events are not in a prime position. Hey even Mercedes now offers an all-road model – outdoor sports are starting to be tied to cars and driving.

      3. With the population growth and increasing mobility demand, the infrastructure changes are designed to regulate said traffic and while potentially succesful with motor vehicles, barreling down and fighting for position on bikes at 50+kph through road furniture/speed bumps/metal poles/raised lane separations is plain dangerous. Jim Ochowicz (sp?) – BMC team owner – has been saying this for years and is pushing for smaller team sizes for that very reason. I have actually *seen* and experience this type of infrastrcuture evolution over the years in ‘cycling countries’ such as The Netherlands/France.

      4. In the end, semantincs and traidition cannot pay the bills and such events should at least break even. Ponferrada 2014 and Bergen 2017 are examples how within the highest (as such most commerciallised/with biggest sponsors) echelons of the sport things are not pretty. Richmond 2015 (I fail to remember though i am not sure the overall results were positive), Doha 2016 is not a fair comparison since budget was not an issue there. I truly support grassroots type of events, though on such a scale (270km, 200+ riders) is next to impossible, it would take a lot of volunteer and free labor. Philly Classic is (was?) yet another victim here. Cyclocross is the perfect grassroots format though. This imo is the main reason for the massive resurgence of the gravel bikes – cyclists are being fed up with having to share the road.

      All in all, I am of the firm opinion that road cycling has lived past its prime and even ‘tradition’ and ‘former glory’ can’t keep it alive. While, the critics might say it is a negative outlook, it is just the way the sport will evolve and we are yet to see how exactly that would happen in the end.

  • Callum Dwyer

    How do we know when it returns to it’s iconic status? What metric does one use?

    • Bigger crowds in towns along the way and at the finish, larger fields, decent mainstream media coverage, internationals, and a strong and capable management / promotion group that sticks around.

      • Callum Dwyer

        Can’t see that happening any time soon. Given cycling is not that popular and Cycling Australia is only focus on Olympics.

        • Best to be positive and have an open mind re possibilities. And it’s not all up to Cycling Australia.

      • Superpilot

        It will never get back to the peak of the ‘good old days’. Back then, when you picked up the paper and a pack of durries at the corner store and chatted to your mates at the 6 oclock swill there was little else to do, it was a big thing in your town because it was an interesting thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Trying to re-achieve some mythical status of days gone by is probably a somewhat futile exercise. To bring public attention to anything these days, you need social media marketing and big $$. Red Bull and back flips. In reality, to survive, the race and organisation probably needs to stay humble and efficient, preach to the converted (bike racers and bike race fans) and try get some attention in the towns that it passes through. Chuck some mainstream news anchors in a follow car or team car at the pointy end so they get the feel for it. Live internet radio broadcast all along the course so people can get excited knowing the break and the bunch is approaching. Who knows. I don’t envy the proposition of trying to keep it going. Not the least of which is the blimmin police and their fees, the state govt obviously doesn’t see it as an asset like some that are selling arms and legs to invest in events for tourism $$. Maybe there aren’t enough tourism $$ in it, maybe a fondo is the right accessory to generate the extra economic benefit to the local economies. The govt and the police seem to see it as an inconvenience at best. A shame, but the times, they are a changing.

      • Robert Merkel

        Maybe. Who’s it iconic for?

        Case in point – the Tour of Bright is “iconic” for Victorian amateur racers but the only other people who think about it are the locals whinging about another bloody bike ride interfering with their ability to get their utes from point A to point B.

        • You’re right Robert. Let’s give up on it then. Next year’s piece I’m going to argue for an e-bike Warrny category. The NRS riders are already feeding from the team cars. Only a matter of time eh?

          • Robert Merkel

            You’re misreading me entirely.

            I’d like the Melbourne-Warrnambool to continue. I just hope that discussions of how best to ensure that happens, are done with a hard head.

            As my initial post indicated, as somebody who is part of the potential target market for entries into a Warrny handicap, I could see myself participating BUT there are some issues that would have to be thought through to make the race a) sufficiently popular to be financially viable, and b) an enjoyable experience for those of us shelling out our own money to do it.

  • Gavin Adkins

    It’s only a minor point, but I don’t think the start location matters a great deal. Paris-Roubaix starts at Compiègne – you could start it out the back of Geelong.

  • David Reid

    I have always disliked handicap racing. It seems ridiculous that such a long and arduous race could be won not by the best rider on the day, but by somebody who started an hour before the fastest rider.

    Shifting the date to January or February could allow for the race to include some of the top pro riders and teams in Australia for the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Even with the current date an effort could be made to attract a few top pro riders returning to Australian at the end of the European season. Even if these riders are tired and not wanting to race at 100%, their participation would still boost public interest.

    • Nick Squillari

      As annoying as it might be when my bunch doesn’t get up (or close) in a handicap, to claim that whoever won was not the best rider on the day is both disingenuous and really missing the point of handicap racing.


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